VietNam Bridge – On March 3, 1925, the Governor General of Indochina issued a statement confirming that Hoang Sa (Paracels) and Truong Sa (Spratlys) belong to Vietnam, part of the French territory. Thus, even in the French-ruled period, Vietnam’s sovereignty over the two archipelagos continued.
Vietnam's sovereignty stele on Hoang Sa Islands, built by the French.
After the conclusion of the Treaty of Hue on June 6, 1884, France continued to represent Vietnam in all of its external relations and protected Vietnam’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Within the framework of those commitments, Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands was exercised by France.
French battleships often patrolled in the South China Sea, referred to as “Biển Đông” (English: The East Sea) by Vietnamese, including the areas of the Paracel and the Spratly Islands.
In 1899, Paul Doumer, the then Governor-General of Indochina, sent a proposal to Paris for building a lighthouse on Pattle Island within the Paracel Islands to guide ships in the area. The plan, however, was abandoned due to budget issue.
Since 1920, Indochinese ships of customs had intensified their patrol in the area of the Hoang Sa archipelago to prevent smuggling.
In 1925, the Institute of Oceanography in Nha Trang sent the ship De Lanessan for an oceanography survey in the Paracel Islands. In addition to A. Krempf, the then Institute’s Director, and other researchers including Delacour and Jabouille also joined the trip for their geological and biological research and other studies. Also in 1925, the Minister of Military Affairs Than Trong Hue of the Imperial Court reaffirmed that the Paracel Islands are within Vietnam’s territory.
In 1927, the ship De Lanessan went to the Paracel Islands for a scientific survey.
In 1929, the Pierre de Rouville delegation proposed that four lighthouses be set up at four corners of the Paracel Islands, namely Triton (Tri Ton) and Lincoln (Linh Con) Islands, and the North (Da Bac) and Bombay Reefs (Bong Bay).
In 1930, the gunboat La Malicieuse went to the Paracel Islands.
In March 1931, the ship Inconstant went to the Paracel Islands.
In June 1931, the ship De Lanessan went to the Paracel Islands.
In May 1932, the battleship Alerte went to the Paracel Islands.
From April 13th, 1930 to April 12th, 1933, the Government of France deployed naval units to garrison major islands of the Spratly Islands, namely Spratly (Truong Sa Lon), Amboyna Cay (An Bang), Itu Aba (Ba Binh), Group des Deux Iles (Song Tu), Loaita (Loai Ta), and Thitu (Thi Tu).
On December 21st, 1933, the then Governor of Cochinchina M.J. Krautheimer signed the decree to annex the islands of Spratly, Amboyna Cay, Itu Aba, Song Tử group, Loaita, and Thitu to the Province of Ba Ria.
In 1937, the French authorities sent a civil engineer named Gauthier to the Paracel Islands to examine positions for building lighthouses and a seaplane terminal.
In February 1937, the patrol ship Lamotte Piquet commanded by Rear-Admiral Istava came to the Paracel Islands.
On March 30th, 1938, Emperor Bao Dai signed the Imperial Edict to split the Paracel Islands from the Province of Nam Nghia and annex them to the Province of Thua Thien. The Edict reads: “Consider that the Hoang Sa Islands (Archipel des îles Paracels) have been for long under the sovereignty of Vietnam, and directly under the Province of Nam Nghia during the previous dynasties’ time, and that this administration had not been changed until the reign of The To Cao Hoang De as all the communications with these islands were carried out via the seaports in the Province of Nam Nghia; Consider that by nautical progress, the communications have changed, and that the Imperial Court’s representative who went on an inspection tour and the Protectorate’s representative petitioned to annex those islands to the Province of Thua Thien for the sake of convenience”.
On June 15th, 1938, the then Governor-General of Indochina Jules Brévié signed a decree on establishing an administrative unit in the Paracel Islands under Thua Thien Province.
In 1938, France erected a sovereignty stele, completed the construction of a lighthouse, a meteorological station, a radio station on Pattle Island (Vietnamese: Hoang Sa; French: Île Pattle), and a meteorological station and a radio station on Itu Aba Island within the Paracel Islands. The inscription on the stele reads: “The French Republic, The Kingdom of An Nam, The Paracel Islands, 1816 – Pattle Island – 1938” (1816 and 1938 are the years of Vietnam’s sovereignty exercise over the Paracel Islands by Emperor Gia Long, and of the French erection of the stele, respectively).
On May 5th, 1939, the Governor-General of Indochina Jules Brévié signed a decree on amendment of the decree of June 15th, 1938. The new decree established two administrative delegations, namely the Delegations of Croissant and Its Dependents, and Amphitrite And Its Dependents.
For the entire time that it represented Vietnam’s external relations, France consistently affirmed the sovereignty of Vietnam over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, and protested those actions that seriously violated this sovereignty.
For instance, on December 4th, 1931 and April 24th, 1932, France opposed the Government of China and the intention of the Guangdong provincial authorities to invite bids for exploiting guano on the Paracel Islands. Other examples include France’s announcement on July 24th, 1933 to Japan that its armed forces would encamp on major islands within the Spratly Islands; and France’s objection on April 4th, 1939 to Japan’s inclusion of some islands within the Spratly Islands under its jurisdiction.
To be continued…
Compiled by Duy Chien
The article uses research materials by Dr. Han Nguyen Nguyen Nha, founder and advisor of the Cultural Education Fund in HCM City and the National Committee on Boundary Affairs.